My wife and I have cruised many times before we had children ... so this was a new cruise experience for us. I will try from time to time to give tips for cruising with young ones during the course of this review.
My wife, 2 boys (2 1/2 and 4 1/2) and I left for our July 5th eastern cruise on Friday July 4th from Toronto Canada to Miami Florida (direct American Airlines) @ aprox 9:30 am.
Tip: we used the C.A.R.E.S air harness for our 2 1/2 old and it was a life saver (he was use to this type of harness because it was similar to his car seat)It was a big help because it kept him from moving out of his seat. We packed new coloring books and small toys, snacks, DVD player and hand held devices to keep them entertained during the flight. My older son enjoyed the movie and the headphones we packed kept him occupied for a while.
We arrived about 12:45 in Miami and took a taxi ($25 dollars and about 20 minutes) to our Hotel near the port Hyatt Miami Regency. We had requested early check in and our rooms were ready (yes). We got settled and we put up the bed rails we had packed (beds very high in this hotel) hoping that the boys would have their normal afternoon nap... we quickly learned that vacation with the boys with all of us in the same room = normal routines going out the window. As it was July 4th most things were closed but the Hotel was near a CVS store so I went to get room snacks and milk for the boys. Bought new sun screen ---parents check this out before you buy sunscreen for your kids http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com or even for yourself. Later that afternoon we decided to go for an early dinner @ Bubba Gumps in the Bayside Market Place. We took the mobile mover (free) from the hotel and it dropped us off a block away from the market place. Tip: parents hold on to young children while waiting for the train (no safety rails) Bubba Gumps was great and very reasonable. I had a dish called Boat Trash (bits of everything)! We were getting tired and decided to just take a taxi back to the hotel $7. We used the pool at the hotel (salt water) many times it was nice. In the morning we had room service for breakfast (expensive but easier than getting the boys ready ... when we needed to do a bit of repacking). Taxi Van to the ship was $15 dollars plus tip ( over tip ... too many years as a waiter will do that to you). We put everything we would need in our carry-ons and the boys had little carry-ons. We took an umbrella stroller but only used it a few times the entire trip (mostly wheeled it with a carry on or two on it).
We got to the pier between 10:45-11:00 lots of people were still getting off the ship. Tip: We always tip the porter well ($20 for 4 bags) and have always had our luggage delivered really early. The entire process was very fast and we were on the ship in under 30 minutes. We took our boarding pic and signed our eldest up for Aquanauts and purchased a $25 beverage card for the boys to share. We tried to get to our cabin but the hall doors were closed and a staff member was posted telling everyone who tried that they had to wait until 1:00(it was exactly 1:00 when we were allowed in)We had just over an hour left so we went with all of our stuff to the Windjammer.
Cabin: Deluxe Balcony #9674
The cabin was fantastic. It was very organized and made use of every inch of space! We had four of us in the room and I was worried that we would be cramped... not so even with the pull out sofa out at night we had room. We did not need the rails for the sofa bed because it was so low. We loved the balcony and we are so glad we got one again this time (we almost didn't, worried about the safety factor with 2 boys who love to climb everything... we talked to them about it and had a firm rule that they needed an adult to go on the balcony). The balcony had four chairs and a very small table but we had more than enough room even with all of us on it. We used the balcony so much I can't imagine not getting one again. Tons of storage room and the luggage went under the bed when we unpacked. Check behind all mirrors in the cabin and bathroom for hidden shelves. The flat LCD TV is cool and we discovered (2nd last day) that if you pull it out it pivots. Bathroom is small but it has everything you need and room to move around. Shower doors circle around you and the shower head is very adjustable. The cabin was always kept clean and we had towel animals and chocolates every night. Arlene our cabin steward was really nice and always friendly to us when ever we would see her. She did a great job and we tipped her using the prepaid vouchers plus we added a little extra.
Ship: She is something to experience... we have been on voyager class ships but this Freedom class ship really takes things to the next level. Everything that was great about the Voyager is found on the Liberty and so much more. The Royal promenade was a daily ritual (Sorrento's for pizza and the logo and general stores... plus our afternoon coffee at the Cafe Promenade was a perfect part of the day). We our boys we spent a good portion of every @ sea day in the H20 zone. This place is awesome but I do have to question the diaper rules. We were told that our 2 1/2 year old could not wear a swimming diaper in the area but if he went without any diaper that was OK? Really? Yes really! We played ping pong, shuffle board (boys loved this and it was on a remote deck that gave them a chance to be loud and bit silly), basketball and miniature golf everyday (great activities for the boys and us). When we had had enough of sun activities and the boys needed a place to run around (as all healthy boys do) we would go to the front of the ship and let them run around the Helipad or we would get a coffee and find a lounge that was totally empty (Catacombs and Sphinx were empty most mornings and afternoons) and let them dance and run around while we watched. They also liked exploring the ship with us. I tried the flow-rider this time while my wife and boys watched (I stayed up for a respectable amount of time both times and I would do it again in a heart beat.... it was really cool). I also tried the adults only area one day while the boys and my wife took a nap... the whirl pools that extend over the ship really are awesome. The attention to detail on this ship was amazing. The ship exceeded all our expectations!
Food: Food was very good to great. We ate every night (early) and one lunch in the dining room. The food and service was really good and we had a table for four by the window (I requested both when we booked). The boys loved the view and passed the time looking for ships, fish etc... we also found that telling them family stories about when we were young really helped them pass the time. They started to request more and more stories and this normally allowed us to have a relaxing dinner including dessert (we saved coffee for later). The food was really good! I have been on many cruises and this was among the best. Our children had items they ordered from the kid's menu as well as the main menu. Our waiters even brought out special requests for them. We had all of our breakfasts in the Windjammer and split most of our lunches between Sorrento's and the Windjammer. Sorrento's was amazing and Windjammer had great variety. All of the food was great! We used room service for snacks and milk (we would order cartons of milk and keep them in the cabin fridge for the boys and sometimes bring extra cartons of milk and small boxes of cereal back to the cabin for the boys to snack on when needed). We always took turns sitting with the boys while the other got a food in the Windjammer (the boys are at that height where they are not easily seen but easily hit by people carrying plates) No complaints about the food at all. The cookies, coffee, and pastries from Cafe Promenade was very popular with us in the afternoon.
Service: The staff on this ship worked so very hard to do everything in their power to make sure we were comfortable and looked after. Everywhere you looked staff were going that extra mile. Cleaning was constant, friendly greetings and smiles from all staff was what we experienced every time. We used the room wifi (buy the most minutes, I used up my minutes quickly). It was expensive but you are on a ship at sea. We used the mother and toddler activities but my wife complained that it was only one one time a day for 45 minutes. The Aquanauts was great but our eldest only went one time. He had more fun with us and his brother ... I think it seemed a bit too much like the daycare he was in @ home. We tried the baby sitting in the room but we made an big mistake. We booked it at the front desk for the Crown and Anchor party (2 hrs= $30) and they took my Sail and Sign card so I thought I was charged. The baby sitter called to confirm the time and day... she showed up 5 minutes early and did an awesome job (played games, read books got the kids ready for bed). I gave her $20 and thanked her very much. The next day I was looking at our account on the TV and noticed I had not been charged the $30 dollars. Yikes!! I went down to the front desk and they said I was supposed to give her the money at the door. I felt horrible... I thought I was giving a good tip and I ended up short changing her. I asked if I could contact her and they dialed her number. I left a very long apology on her machine and let her know that I had just left an envelope ($30) for her at the desk. I later confirmed she got it and she had left a thank you note for me. I am so glad I caught this...
Entertainment: We liked all of the live music we stumbled across with the kids. We did not attend any of the shows because we liked having the time with the boys out on deck before bed. I heard several people say the shows were hit or miss. We have seen many shows on previous cruises so I didn't really feel like we were missing out on anything.
Ports: San Juan: We had visited San Juan several times before and decided to stay on board (we had the ship virtually to our selves).
St. Maarten: We went shopping and to the beach. Both were excellent. Paid $10 for 2 loungers on the beach... my eldest and I purchased a necklace and ring for my wife and we picked up some t-shirts and souvenirs. Getting on and off the ship no problems!
Labadee: We have been to Labadee before and we knew to avoid the market with the boys (very aggressive vendors). Getting on and off the ship no problems! We went to the beach and rented a floating mat for $10. The beach is perfect and great for the boys (no waves and very shallow) we stayed until lunch and went back to the ship to have lunch in the empty dining room. We had a great time at Labadee.
We had a really great cruise. It was definitely different than cruises before kids but it gave us a chance to share it with the boys and really spend time with them (without all of life's distractions in the way). We also got to see cruising through their eyes and enjoy experiences that we would not have before because we took them. I am looking forward and planning our next cruise (Oasis of the Seas).
Disembarkation was a bit slower and immigration was a bottleneck. We were off the ship in about an hour. We took a taxi to our hotel (Courtyard Marriot Ocean Front). Good, clean hotel on the beach with a great pool. We stayed for 2 days and enjoyed having an ocean view for a bit longer.
Liberty was great and I would recommend it for everyone... families included.